The caterer: Having worked in New York at high-profile catering companies and a Michelin-starred restaurant, chef Ryan Fitzpatrick returned to Ireland where he has worked in various five-star resorts, most recently at Adare Manor.
yan told me recently about his Co Clare-based Wild Catering Company.
“After moving home from New York due to the Covid pandemic, and having time to reflect on what direction I wanted to take my career, I began to see a gap in the market in the West of Ireland to provide bespoke catering experiences for people to enjoy in their own homes. Basically, born out of the first lockdown, we started to grow our brand pretty fast – actually a lot faster than we expected.”
With just a couple of local deliveries and collection points to see how it would go, they started ‘Wild at Home’, a three-course meal for €30 per person, cooked and chilled, delivered with all instructions and a video on social media platforms. This has been a huge success and they now have multiple collection points, including Galway.
“Covid has been bittersweet – because we had planned to open our cafe Wild at the Cave in Doolin on December 28, and we had the stock ordered, the staff hired and were all ready to go full steam ahead with our exciting new venture… only to see a lockdown close everything down once again.
“It has given us the struggle of continuously reinventing our business plan so we can make a living to meet the needs of our community. Luckily, our Wild at Home offering has become very popular and we are able to keep the show on the road, and will do so until lockdown is lifted.
“In the meantime, we are planning to open the cafe for takeaway once the numbers start to ease. This is obviously going to be another challenge that we face, opening a cafe mid-lockdown, but we are determined and optimistic about this exciting new venture.”
The pastrymaker: Mairéad Finnegan’s passion for baking inspired her to establish her handmade, all-butter Roll It Pastry business in Kells, Co Meath, a few years back, and it has proved extremely popular.
“At the start of 2020, I was in the process of setting up my own small bakery that would work alongside my existing pastry business,” says Mairéad.
She noticed that her business was subject to seasonal highs and lows, and was looking for a way of maintaining turnover throughout the year. Planning to have the bakery up and running by March 2020, she invested in a fit-out of space, with a view to supplying pastry and baked goods to customers – including cafes and restaurants.
“When the first lockdown hit, I was really concerned about how I’d manage. I’d invested in the bakery and I was entering my quietest time of year. Reluctantly, I put the bakery plan on hold. It was a stressful time but I knew I wasn’t the only one.”
However, Mairéad was surprised when, as June and July approached, the orders for pastry were still coming in, and this continued throughout the summer as people baked at home.
“The run-up to Christmas was busier than ever and the orders have continued. My bakery is still on hold, but, for the moment, the pastry orders are keeping me busy.”
The wine bar: The future seemed so bright in Galway at the beginning of 2020. It was the European Capital of Culture, a record year for tourism was on the cards, the economy was glittering, even Prince William and Kate were in town.
What could possibly go wrong? So thought Barry and Kate Donovan when they signed the lease on a 25-seater restaurant in January 2020, with a plan to open their Trieste Cafe Wine Bar on Valentine’s Day.
“Fast forward seven weeks, it’s St Patrick’s Day, there’s €45 in the till at the close of business and it’s time for lockdown. Our friends at the Augustinian Priory next door were very grateful for our donation of fresh produce. They said they’d pray for us,” says Barry.
While many businesses had cause to panic, Barry and Kate say that an understanding landlord and co-operative suppliers made their nights stress free. In April they brain-stormed box ideas – with Kate suggesting cheese and charcuterie, which took off.
“The summer months were good as we quickly changed our whole model, which now includes three to four delivery drivers at peak times, retraining staff and keeping our produce seasonal and innovative.”
The corporate side of their Charcuterie Boxes also took off over Christmas, with big employers sending out boxes to staff, saying they’d take as many as were available.
“We’re keeping busy, updating our produce with seasonal editions of our boxes.
“We also do virtual wine-tasting nights where we deliver one of our boxes and selected wines, followed by a Zoom call. It’s always good fun. We have Paddy Borthwick from Wairarapa, New Zealand, on the 19th and we’re looking forward to that.
“Moving sales online has transformed our operation. Twelve months ago, we were trying to perfect our Hollandaise sauce, now it’s: how do we roll out our boxes nationwide? I thank our friends at the Augustinian Priory for their prayers – they worked!”
The hotel: The family-run Station House Hotel, set on 12 acres of gardens and woodland in Kilmessan, Co Meath, is a hugely popular spot for weddings.
Owned by the Slattery family since 1984, they’d just completed a full refurbishment in March 2020. When Covid hit, they ‘temporarily’ closed their bedrooms, Signal Restaurant and Platform Bar to the public, but continued to host weddings and other private events.
Denise Slattery tells me how they’ve been coping.
“Worsening restrictions over 2020 meant the temporary closure of our full hotel offering continued.
“We became more adept at managing the business within the protocols and restrictions, and hosted many beautiful weddings, including those for just six people. We’ve taken a microscope to the entire hotel with a view to improving our offering throughout.
“The unique former signal box is now the two-room Signal Suite, the former stationmaster’s quarters is now the Grand Suite and the original engine room and workshop has been converted to the Carriage Suite.
“One notable change is the move to our 100pc Irish mission for the Signal Restaurant. We’ve so much amazing produce around us in the Boyne Valley, whether it’s local potatoes, lamb reared in farms surrounding the hotel, local specialist pork and charcuterie and so much more.
“We’re really excited to welcome guests back and showcase our beautiful refurbishment which really has our imprint on it, our inspiration from travels across time and across the globe. We like to think it marries Irish country house chic with eclectic influences from the Middle East, India and beyond.
“While it’s been a crazy year, we’re optimistic. Our hotel has never looked better and we can’t wait to reopen fully when it is safe to do so.”